Day Schools See Future With Non-Jews

Facing Enrollment Dip, Some See Model for Jewish Education

Mixed Bag: Some Jewish schools see accepting non-Jewish students as an answer to dwindling enrollment. But others see a threat to maintaining Jewish identity.
courtesy of lippman school
Mixed Bag: Some Jewish schools see accepting non-Jewish students as an answer to dwindling enrollment. But others see a threat to maintaining Jewish identity.

By Elicia Brown

Published January 25, 2012, issue of February 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Before sending her 6-year-old son, Charlie, off to day school in September, Brenda Hite wondered if she’d made the right decision. Neither Hite nor her husband, Tom, are Jewish, but the public school options in their hometown of Akron, Ohio, didn’t enthrall them. So they applied to the local Lippman School, which impressed the Hites with its new global perspective and its energetic and experienced educators.

“Once we learned more about the Jewish culture and religion, and how steeped everything is in Old World values, the Lippman School became very attractive to us,” said Hite, who, like her husband, grew up in a Christian household. Also, she said, “It didn’t feel like Charlie would get the individualized attention at a public school that he would receive at Lippman.”

“It was kind of a leap,” admits Hite. “But after the first day, our son was all smiles,” she said, adding that Charlie adores the school’s weekly Shabbat celebrations.

The Lippman School is engaged in an experiment of sorts among unaffiliated community day schools — one that may soon be replicated in several other shrinking Jewish communities. For schools in regions with declining Jewish populations, attracting families like the Hites could be just the buoy needed to stay afloat.

“Many day schools are valued because they offer what is perceived to be a high-quality education, and that’s not limited in appeal to Jews alone,” said Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer at the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), an organization dedicated to strengthening Jewish education. Also, as with parochial Catholic schools, whose non-Catholic enrollment has increased in recent decades, the education at Jewish schools is “often offered at a price that is less than non-sectarian schools,” Woocher said. In Lippman’s case, that’s $7,500 annually.

But the solution runs the risk of polarizing Jewish families, according to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. “It’s an approach loaded with opportunities but also fraught with potential dilemmas,” such as how to handle kosher food policy and celebrations of Christmas, as well as interfaith dating among older children, he said. “[However] we do not want a vibrant Jewish education to be only in big city centers. We need Jewish education to be a viable option all over America.”

The strategy could also potentially backfire if Jewish families flee, fearing dilution of Jewish content and experience, or that their donated dollars are going to non-Jewish causes. At Lippman, for example, financial aid is available for both Jews and non-Jews, and while specific dollars go toward supporting Judaic studies programs, local Federation money supports the entire school.

What’s more, admitting non-Jewish students to Jewish day schools brings up serious philosophical questions about the nature and purpose of Jewish education. Jewish day schools have always seen themselves as educating the next crop of Jewish leaders in order to reverse the tide of assimilation. By bringing non-Jews into the mix, they might be hindering their own cause.

“Here’s what you need to think about: Can schools that take in non-Jews maintain their core Jewish identity and mission over the long term? In the beginning they might, but what happens over the long term? Does that get diminished?” said Amy Katz, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.